Undersea Adventures

from Spearfishing in Skatahori by Matt Barrett

By the time Andrea gets to the beach I'm already in the water. It's freezing. Several springs empty into the sea from fissures in the rocks and the freshwater sits on top of the sea water giving everything a blurry appearance. It's like swimming without one's coke-bottle-lens glasses. Up close it looks almost like oil as the two water types intermingle but do not mix. I could swear I see ice particles. We journey underwater down the coast scattering schools of giant fish as we blindly swim through them. It's like being in a polar sea. Andrea turns back, defeated by the chill. I swim a little further but give up too.
    Then, on the way back to the small beach a gopa swims right towards me from the opposite direction. I shoot him Then another one. Wow! This is easy. Like a reward for my suffering. I forget the water temperature. I get almost to the beach where Andrea is sitting but swim across the small cove to the other shore and continue down the coast in the direction of Saint George where the sea is warmer. Both Panayotis and Dionysious had urged me to fish this coastline telling me of the many small rofos that live here. They were right. Rofos peer at me from under every large rock. Some come up for a closer look, then hurry back to their holes when they realize I'd noticed them. But I'm not interested in them. I see a school of gopa heading directly towards me as they hug the coastline. I get another one. Then I shoot a couple skaros. I don't even look at the kefalo who are also in abundance. I pick off a few more gopa, that are by now starting to avoid me if at all possible.
    Then way down below I see a great big skaros near a large boulder. It's deep but if I time it right I can shoot and come right back up. I take a deep breath and dive. I shoot and hit him in the head. It knocks him cold or even dead but the spear does not impale him and he falls to the sea floor. Disaster. I race for the surface and take a big breath of air. My legs are weak. My heart is beating fast. I feel dizzy. And, my fish is lying on the bottom, seemingly out of reach, attracting a school of the ever-present little black fish that nobody eats or talks about but everyone catches. How am I going to get that big dead fish off the ocean floor? If only I could train those little black fish to bring it to me. "But that could take ages", I think realistically. I wait until I'm rested. The bottom looks deeper then ever but I force myself to go. Down deeper and deeper. I will try to spear him again as he lays there immobile. I shoot and miss. Shit. I swim desperately for the surface. I rest and try again. This time the spear goes through the fish but is deflected out by the stone sea-floor underneath. Again I surface.
    "Is this fish worth my life?" I ask myself. I look down. I already know the answer and this time without waiting to recover I dive down and pick up the mighty fish with my hand. I burst through to the surface breathing the life-giving air with profound thanks. I feel immense pride in my perseverance and accomplishment. I had challenged the seas murky depths and I had won. I look at my catch. Funny how things seem much larger underwater. Well, never mind. It's the thrill of the hunt that really counts.
    The sun has disappeared from the tiny bay and I begin my journey back. I shoot one more gopa but I have to chase him around. It's a hard fought battle and I had hit him with a lucky shot. They are on to me.
    When I get back to the icy waters of the small beach Andrea is gone. In her place is the French family who are staying at Katina's. I swim around for awhile chasing kefalo just for the fun of it. I had also picked up a few colorful sea-urchin skeletons to give to Amarandi One of these I give to the small French girl who is happily playing on the beach. She smiles in heartfelt thanks and rushes off to show her family the precious gift I have given her. I smile to myself. I have made this little girl very happy. And some day she will grow into a beautiful young French woman.
    I set about the unpleasant task of cleaning the fish. There are many yellow-jackets around and they hassle me mercilessly. While I am scaling and cutting I notice the French family staring in rapt attention at something in the distance. I hope it isn't the ferry. That's my planned entertainment for the evening. I gaze down the coast letting my eyes slowly come into focus. It's a flock of goats standing on the rocks at the shoreline.
    "They come for the salt", I call out to the French father in a knowledgeable tone.
    "Yes", he nods in agreement though for all we knew the goats are there to eat barnacles. I continue with my task at hand keeping a sharp eye on the goats lest they should grab my fishing bag and make a break for the impenetrable mountains. When I finish my work I say farewell to the happy little French family. The small girl is still fondling the wondrous gift I had given her. I begin the arduous journey back to town. As I approach the small dock in front of the first row of houses I am met by a fisherman who wants to see my catch. He looks at the skaros.
    "You don't have to clean these" he informs me excitedly me. Then he teaches me a little rhyme to help me to remember
The rofos you eat the head
melanouri the body
but for skaros eat the shit
and tell me which is better?

It actually rhymes in Greek. He keeps making me repeat it until I get it right and then he lets me continue home.

Life begins at four. At least it does herein Skatahori. I wake up around eight-thirty drink some strong coffee and begin writing. I either finish at twelve-twenty and meet the flying dolphin or as the case has been lately, type right through until one of the girls come to get me for lunch. Then I return to the room and read or listen to some Ken Wapnick tapes on A Course In Miracles and try to convince Amarandi to take a nap. I'm not always  successful. At four o'clock I grab my gear and go to the sea.
    Today I walk to the next beach over, the little stone inlet before Saint George. Andrea said she would come in an hour. I thought about spending some time picking up sea-urchins for my friend Niko the Contractor. Also Mister Octopus has already started hassling me for some, but the thrill of the hunt has to much power over me. But I cannot not be satisfied scraping a few oversized barnacles off the sea-bed. I need to smell the blood of real fish, sense their fear as they feverishly try to escape. Feel the thrill as harpoon meets scaly flesh. Plus I need the exercise. So leaving the thousands of tasty spiny creatures behind, oblivious to how close they had come to death, I swim south along the coast, looking for prey.
    As I get closer to Saint George I keep hearing the sound of racing engines. When I round the bend I see to my horror two giant gas guzzling American style yachts. And racing around the tiny quiet bay are two jerks on jet-skis. "What is it with these people? They find the quietest place on earth and they make as much noise as they can. Anyone so obsessed with disturbing the environment must himself be quite disturbed," I tell myself, taking aim at a small skaros and blasting him into oblivion. I gather the pieces together. I wonder about rich people. They never have to grow up. They just keep buying toys to amuse themselves. These horrible machines are just appliances to them. Something to make their lives easier like an electric can-opener. But because of their total lack of compassion for their fellow man they are not aware of the discomfort these noisy machines cause the villagers, or me. If only one would pass close enough so I could shoot its reckless rider. Justifiable homicide. "I saw this terrible creature like a demon from hell coming for me spewing smoke and foam. I just closed my eyes and shot. What would you do in my place, officer?"
    I watch them for a moment, racing back and forth, in circles, making sharp turns and reversing directions. They remind me of the kids with skateboards going off the steps at the Chapel Hill Post Office. It's the exact same thing except these skateboards have big engines built by peace loving engineers at Honda and Yamaha and the riders have lifejackets instead of kneepads. Instead of tattoos they have their own gold cards, given to them with great ceremony on their thirteenth birthday. I congratulate myself on my brilliant analogy and continue my killing spree. As I approach Saint George I realize that the danger of being run over by one of these upper caste daredevils, is increasing exponentially.
    Then suddenly the sound stops. Like all children they had quickly become bored with their toys and moved onto something else. I imagine them in their luxury cabins playing star-destroyer or satisfying their adolescent sexual needs with their bleach-blonde mother's Jane Fonda exercise video. I figure I have about fifteen minutes before they find a new way to disturb the silence and endanger my life. I use that time to swim past where their yachts are moored at the church of Saint George, and continue on towards the lighthouse. As it turns out I had more time then I thought. It took them half-an-hour before they broke out the old water skis, primitive, yet still efficient in relieving the boredom of people in the habit of getting everything they want when they want it. At least now they won't be anywhere near the rocks and I can fish in peace.
    When I reach the point, I see a small boat. In it is Panayotis, this time fishing for rofos instead of kefalo. I wave to him.
    "Have you seen any Rofos", he asks me.
    "Hundreds" I tell him. "They are everywhere. Do you want one?" I offer to catch one for him. I have not been hunting them because I've been waiting for Mitch to arrive. Rofos are a soup fish and the fish I have been catching were for grilling and frying. The rofos, somehow sensing that I was not a danger to them come out of their homes to watch me pass by like widows and children watching a conquering army march through their village. To shoot one now might alert them to my future plans. I am glad that Panayotis misunderstood me or has not heard me and has gone back to his fishing. I swim a little further and turn around.
    I already have plenty of fish, several skaros, some gopa, a few kefalo and one barbouni when I see a group of perka. They are hassling a large octopus. I don't even think about it. My instincts take over as soon as I realize that this octopus is big enough to shoot and not feel ashamed about it. I shoot badly. Even at close range I was so excited that I had forgotten Robert Deniro's important words in The Deer Hunter. You have to take a dear with "one shot". It was the same with octopus. I had merely wounded the poor creature and he disengages himself and begins to swim away. I reload and shoot him again, this time fatally. The only problem is that he doesn't know it's fatal. He is stuck on the spear but still fighting to get himself off. Michali Orphanidis, my spearfishing guru had told me that when I get in this situation I need to turn the octopus's head inside-out. It sounded easy on land, drinking beer in the Old Captain bar, but at sea it's a different story. First of all the octopus does not want his head turned inside-out. It's also my one free arm against his eight tentacled arms or legs. I decide to end it quickly and pull out my trusty knife. In a moment it's all over. I have stabbed myself in the hand.
    "Did you catch anything?" Panayotis calls to me from the boat. I pull out the large octopus that is still attached to the end of my spear. "That's a great one", he tells me. His young partner had caught one too and waves it in the air. It isn't more then four inches long. He gasps when he sees mine and looks ashamedly at the lifeless baby octopus he holds. I imagine him despairing over what he has done on the long boat-ride back to the village. He had killed a baby octopus before it had the chance to experience the true beauty of life. It would never taste the waters of a fresh mountain spring or see the leaves change from green to autumn red. It would never go to a circus or ride a pony. I, on the other hand had just brutally murdered it's mother "Well, I can live with it," I say to myself and force this sad, guilty thought to the deeper vaults of my mind where it would have lots of company. I continue home.
    When I reach Saint George again, I have to circle around the accursed yachts so as not to pass by where the stern is moored close to the small dock. Who knows what kind of filth is spewing from those pipes that jut from the rear of the sleek craft. I swim around the bow and come face to face with one of  the terrible jet-skis laying idle and unattended. As the fear quickly passes I realized this is an excellent opportunity to make a political statement. A disconnected cable here. A fuel tank punctured by a sharp three-pronged object. A kefalo jammed into the gearbox. But I remember a lesson from A Course In Miracles about forgiving my enemies. Divine intervention had saved the infernal machine. I swim on. A few meters further I see my landlord Yannis Zaferis working on his boat. He asks what I'd caught and if I want a ride back. I tell him I would rather swim. he shakes his head in disbelief. As I approach the first cove I see two people sitting on a rock. As I draw closer I realize it's my cousin Christina and her pretty friend who I had been fantasizing about lately. I stop and chat before continuing on my journey. They are horrified when they see my spear-gun. "Women", I think to myself. "They hate spear-guns but they love fish. Perhaps I should kill them more peacefully by the net-full leaving them gasping for breath on the deck as they die by the hundreds. Genocide. Let them frown on my methods and do their fishing in the market I remember the age old saying, "The meat is sweeter when you have slaughtered the calf." Vindicated I swim on shooting at everything that moves.
    By the time I reach the tiny beach it is obvious that someone had been there since me. There is a pile of sea-urchin shells by a rock and their stinking carcasses have attracted a horde of yellow-jackets. I try to imagine Andrea smashing the little creatures on the rock and scooping out their tasty innards with her fingers, but it is not am easy image to come up with. Someone else had been there, most likely Mister Octopus and his family on one of their pic-nics. And their carelessness had created an ecological catastrophe. Bees everywhere and I still have the unpleasant task of beating the octopus on the rocks to tenderize him. I find a semi-flat stone and begin methodically slamming the poor dead creature as the bees gather, licking their little yellow lips. I pay them no heed and show no fear as I continue my work occasionally catching a yellow-jacket unaware and sending him to Charon. This is fun, I think as yet another one gets in the way of the falling octopus and is obliterated. I carelessly brush him into the sea where he is instantly devoured by the hungry nameless black fish. But before long there are just too many bees. Outnumbered, I pack my fish and equipment and set off on the path to town.
    When I get to the port I sit on a small dock and begin to clean the fish, remembering the little poem the old fisherman had taught me:
The rofos you eat the head
melanouri the body
but for skaros eat the shit
and tell me which is better

    I happily chant as I go about my work. Andrea joins me. "Don't ever swim away for so long. I thought you were dead," she  cajoles me. I continue cutting and cleaning unmindful of her or the new swarm of bees that have gathered around me. "I thought your shoes on the beach were the last I would ever see of you." she adds.
    "Did you think about the last conversation we had and whether or not you were nice to me?" I ask innocently. She hadn't. By now the bees are too much even for a tough old salt like Andrea and she leaves me to finish cleaning the fish. Task completed I dive into the sea and splash all the guts and fish juice off the small dock so nobody could complain about me using it. I climb out and walk home to shower and get ready for Saturday night

Next morning Amarandi wakes up in a bad mood. She whines and cries to her mother. This calls for drastic action
    "Elaine, are you going to church?" I ask, fresh from a religious experience  the night before.
    "It's too late" comes her reply from her bed in the kitchen.
    "Too late? It's never too late for God. It's never too late to be saved. And it's never too late to go to church. You can do as the Greeks do and get there for the last five minutes of the service appeasing God without having to sit through the boring part." It was a good idea. God doesn't care who arrives late and your fellow church-goers don't know because they're facing forward watching the priest. At least they are supposed to be. If I were God I would make it more of a sin to turn around and see who was arriving late then to actually be late. Face forward or straight to hell. That would be my rule. Elaine sees the light and in twenty minutes is dressed and ready to go, taking a happy Amarandi with her. Now maybe I can get some sleep.

    I write for most of the morning. I'm trying to rid myself of some painful thoughts by completely ignoring them. I had an unpleasant evening of tossing and turning thinking about the fish I had massacred. I had asked Andrea if fish had souls. If they could think or love. I knew they felt fear. I could see it in the eyes of a young skaros when I cornered him and he knew the game was over. I had been haunted by those eyes all night. Strange eyes for a fish. More like a cartoon character. In fact the skaros is very much like some kind of creature created in the mind of an animator. Too cute to shoot. Perhaps that was their defense and why they were suddenly in such abundance in these waters. Even the bloodthirsty Greek divers couldn't pull the trigger on these delightful little creatures. And here was I, like a demon from hell, hunting them down with my trident. Merciless. I feel ashamed. But they sure taste good.
    This last thought reminds me that I am hungry. I take the fish out of the refrigerator and go to Katina's. The restaurant is as wild as it had been in the evening. It's Sunday so nobody is working. Everybody is drunk. Vassili the contractor is dancing with Mister Octopus, their bellies bouncing off each other as they leap to and fro. I give the fish to Katina and in a few minutes she has fried them all. I pass them around to the delight of my fellow diners and the festivities continue with a renewed frenzy powered by the souls of the fish. My question was answered. A few hours before lost in a quagmire of existential angst I had considered giving up fishing altogether. Now I see what happiness they bring.
    "If taking the life of a fish can give a man one moment of true happiness, then it is a life worth taking," I tell myself. I celebrate my rebirth by ordering chicken and leave the fish to be devoured by my family and friends. 

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